Thursday, April 16, 2009

on this day

His life was gentle; and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, This was a man.

Today I celebrate the life of my teacher who passed some fifteen years ago on this day.  I remember so vividly sitting with him while he was ill, dying of metastasized cancer, both of us knowing that his time was approaching.  It was January.  We were in Bangalore where he was receiving treatments that we knew were mere gestures towards fighting the good fight.  When all had gone to bed that night, I asked him when, when would that time be and how might I prepare.

At the very same time Appa's mother, who I called by the Tamil "Pati" for grandmother, was herself preparing to make her passage.  Pati was well into her nineties ---we were never exactly sure how old she was--- dying of perfectly natural causes.  "First I shall see Pati through.  I am her only son and it is our custom that a son should say the rites.  As for me, you will know the day."  I was puzzled by Appa's remark about this day I was supposed to know beforehand but I didn't pursue the matter.  Instead I asked him where he was going and how I might follow.

"Where do you think I am going?" he asked.
"Honestly, I don't know."
"What do you think eternity is like?"
"I think it is silent and I will have to live here with that silence.  I will miss our conversations."
"Then to be with me," Appa said, "you will have to go to that silence inside yourself.  You will have to go more deeply into your own heart.  And there you'll find me too, in that place where our conversations will continue."
I can remember still sitting there beside him, crying as quietly as I could.  I couldn't yet imagine how I might bear this silence when it seemed only to be loss.

When the phone rang that morning in April with the news, it was exactly sixteen years from the very day that Appa had given me the essential practices, the mantras of Auspicious Wisdom. He chose to leave his life on the day I had always considered the luckiest of my life, my divya-diksha, the day of divine initiations.  On this day those many years earlier he had opened the doors of perception to show me how I might see the more there is in this gift of embodied life.  It was as if he were saying that I couldn't make this day merely one of grief or only for this remembrance; that it had to be as much my day as his, so that I could never forsake hope or fail to appreciate the presence of grace in this life.  He was a wily one, that Appa.  He never liked to see anyone in pain and he had a way of making those around him remember that there is always more and always a chance to become a better human being.

Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy.  Never fancied himself guru, much less enlightened being.  Had no desire for the limelight or even those attentions and honors received that were so richly his due.  But I should like to remember him today in these few words, for his was a life truly made of compassion and learning, of generosity and genius.  His life has made so many lives the richer.  He would never have presumed himself flawless and neither shall I.  What I can say is that he was a man and Nature, the Auspicious One Herself, gave him to us as a gift, a life so precious in value, so ferocious in goodness, and so gentle in light that I believe he will never be forgotten but rather always heard clearly, in hearts, in the silence.